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Learning to Breathe Underwater

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I.

It was during breakfast in the Dining Hall — what was perhaps the most unassuming time in the most everyday place — when it happened.

Queenie was idly reading an advanced Charms text when she looked up and found herself gazing at a fifth year witch, who had just sat down at a nearby table. She was just thinking how pretty the witch was, when she was hit out-of-nowhere with a seemingly undeniable truth.

She, Queenie Goldstein, liked girls.

She felt her heart stop. Stunned, and more than a little scared, she forced herself to lower her gaze to the plate on the table in front of her. No … she didn’t. She couldn’t like girls. She liked Andrew James, a handsome Thunderbird a year ahead of her; a handsome seventh year boy. (Not that he knew that, of course. For once, Queenie was enjoying her crush in private.) No, she definitely didn’t like girls. That had to be a mistake; a silly stray thought her mind had conjured.

Her heart started beating again.

Of course, she didn’t like girls. Well … at least not like that.

Queenie chanced a glance back up — and at the worst possible moment, too. She made eye contact with the witch she had just been admiring. Her heart fluttered a bit in her chest, as the girl smiled at her. Blushing, Queenie quickly looked away.

Nope. She did not like girls.

Now if she could just say that convincingly.

 

II. 

It felt as if she was drowning: this feeling of not knowing herself.

She had spent the rest of the day in a daze, simply floating in between her classes and unable to pay attention to her professors. But in the rare moments she had to herself to stop and think about that morning, she felt like she had been hit by a rogue wave of a thousand and one feelings. She was being pulled into a mess of emotions that she couldn’t even begin to sort out; she didn’t know how.

Later that night, she listened to the deep breathing of her roommates, who had long since fallen asleep. The soft light of the waxing moon illuminated the quiet dorm room, casting the corners into deep shadow. Despite the late hour, Queenie remained awake, trying her hardest to sort through her tumultuous feelings and thoughts.

Some Legilimens, I am, she thought, while glaring up at the top of her canopy bed. How can I know what everyone else is thinking and feeling, but not know for me? It isn’t fair!

Shouldn’t I know who I am?

Drawing in a shaky deep breath, she forced herself to close her eyes.

Okay, honey, listen up, she mentally coached herself. It doesn’t matter that you thought that witch was pretty! Or that you once liked Felicity back in second year. All girls sometimes think other girls are beautiful— cute! Not beautiful. Just … cute? Ugh! Okay, forget Felicity. Bad example.

But the problem was that it was the perfect example. And despite her anxiety steadily building, thoughts of Felicity swiftly brought to mind the witch from that morning — who had unquestionably caught her attention.

She’s gorgeous, she thought tenderly. And seems so kind. I just want to run my fingers through her soft curly hair and kiss her—

Her eyes snapped open. Kiss her? What was she thinking! She obviously wasn’t, that’s what. How could she think that?

How could you not? her heart answered back, gently. Tears that had been threatening to fall all day suddenly blurred her vision. She fought to breathe.

She was drowning.

Sweet Deliverance Dane, what do I do?

 

III. 

Over the course of the following week, the most logical conclusion Queenie reached was to take all of her thoughts and feelings — her beautiful, yet fragile heart — and lock it all away. Because if she refused to feel anything, then everything was fine, right?

And, as she continued to remind herself, everything was fine. At least, she was able to lie to herself until the end of Defense class that Friday afternoon…

“Hello, Queenie.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, not bothering to look from packing her schoolbag, “but I’m running late.” In the background, Professor Kennan desperately tried to impart last minute knowledge of incantations and human transfiguration.

“Oh,” the voice said, which started sounding more familiar as the seconds passed. “Well, I would be honored to walk you to the Dining Hall. If that’s where you’re going, of course!”

“I’m fine walking alone, I…” She finally looked up and her excuse died on her lips.

“Oh,” Andrew said again. He ran his fingers through his windswept hair; his normally laidback and easy posture tensing with embarrassment.

“Andrew!” Queenie squeaked. She coughed and tried to continue in a normal tone, “I didn’t know it was you! Sorry. I guess you can say I’ve been a bit distracted recently.”

He smiled at her explanation and looked up. For the first time in the conversation, their eyes directly met and Queenie clearly heard everything.

She’s so pretty. I bet she’d go out with me. I’ve got to stop saying ‘Oh,’ though. Oh, she’s staring at me … her eyes are so pretty. I hope she will go out with me. She’ll go out with me. I’ve just gotta ask properly.

His thoughts were sweet, but loud. And her heart, which had grown sad and forlorn while locked in its cage, began to furiously flutter in hope. It was then that Queenie knew she was in trouble.

She still liked Andrew. That clearly hadn’t changed. But how could she also still like girls, if she really did like him? Her stomach clenched and she once again felt like she was tumbling beneath crashing waves. Queenie blinked hard and forced herself out of his thoughts. She was then able to hear — really hear — the rest of what he was saying.

“—and so I was wondering if I could escort you to the Dining Hall,” he said, his countenance hopeful. “And maybe spend some time together after dinner?”

What do I say? she thought desperately. What do I do?

Panic, it seemed, was the natural response her mind and body followed.

“I’m sorry, Andrew, but … I- I’ve gotta go,” she breathlessly replied. Casting a silent packing charm on her bag, she practically flew out of the classroom.

“What—?” She heard Andrew sputter in confusion behind her.

Yes, clearly locking away her emotions worked. She felt nothing … except for everything.

 

IV.

Queenie slid into the Dining Hall and quietly sat down at the far end of the Pukwudgie table. She kept her eyes down and shakily tried to breathe. Her already frayed emotions snapped even further when Andrew ran into the Hall a minute later. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him stop and look at her, before quickly making his way to the Thunderbird table.

A moment passed before she chanced looking up. Her mouth went dry. Andrew was speaking intensely with his fellow seventh year Thunderbird and her older sister, Tina Goldstein. She watched for a minute, but looked away as Tina glanced at her in concern.

Queenie felt ashamed.

Tina. In the chaos and inner turmoil over the previous week, she had forgotten about her sister! Oh, this was not good. How could she ever explain this to her sister? She liked girls … and guys … and she just wanted everything to go back to being normal! It wasn’t like there was a way to make this all go away…

Or is there? a voice whispered in the back of her mind. What if there is a way you could make this all stop?

Slowly, a planned formed in her mind and, by the end of dinner, she had worked out the details.

Everything would be better by midnight.

 

V.

It was probably just her imagination, but the area surrounding the Snakewood tree felt wonderfully alive with wild magic. And for the first time in days, Queenie felt a little bit of hope. 

The full moon cast the world in a pale glow. The closer she stepped to the tree, the quieter the world seemed to become, until it was eerily still. Carefully, she reached out and broke the cardinal rule every Ilvermorny student learns by the end of their first day:

Don’t touch the Snakewood tree.

Nothing happened. Queenie gently ran her hand down the rough bark and took a step back. The sparse leaves on the branches above her whispered softly in the breeze. She tilted her head quizzically.

What did I do wrong? she wondered.

The Snakewood tree was the unnerving byproduct from Isolt, the co-founder of Ilvermorny, burying the wand of her defeated aunt and Dark witch, Gormlaith. Despite its dark history, the tree was said to be untamable and also have powerful medicinal properties. Properties, legend had it, that could cure any ill.

“So, why won’t you fix me?” Queenie murmured, her hand resting on the tree trunk again. “I just want to get better. Please … make me better.”

Whether it was due to her words or desire, that was apparently what the tree had been looking for — and her whole world exploded with light and magic. Soothing waves of magic pulsed and washed over her. The tight muscles in her back and neck loosened, and the headache she hadn’t even realized she had, disappeared. Seconds later, the light and magic faded, leaving her feeling happier and lighter.

But even though she physically felt better, she instinctively still knew that her feelings hadn’t changed.

I can’t change what isn’t broken, the tree, or magic, seemed to say.

“But I want you to,” she whispered.

Silence was the only response she received.

 

VI.

After sneaking back into her dorm room, Queenie was restless and lay awake. As dawn broke on the horizon, she finally felt like she had a grasp on her emotions and came to an important conclusion:

She had to tell her sister about her feelings and attractions.

Because if she didn’t tell someone, she was going to break.

 

VII.

Standard privacy wards — and even some fancier ones that Tina was learning for the Auror Academy — were immediately erected and the first question out of Tina’s mouth was, “Are you okay?” Such a typical big sister question.

The two young witches sat next to each other in one of the library’s private study rooms. Sunlight streamed in through the window, but Queenie was too high-strung to enjoy the warmth. She shifted anxiously in her chair.

“Honestly,” she mumbled, her heart pounding in her chest, “I’m a lot of things right now.”

Tina reached out and held her hand. “Did the tree help any?” she asked quietly.

Queenie’s head shot up in shock. “How did you know about that?” she questioned. “I was really careful with sneaking out!”

“I am training to be an Auror,” Tina replied dryly. “And besides, I know when my baby sister is up to something. So … did it help?”

The young Legilimens looked back down and anxiously wrung her hands.

“Define ‘help,’” she muttered. Sighing, she continued, “I wish you could read my mind because I don’t know how to say this.”

“Queenie, how much stuff have we been through together?” Tina said firmly. “We’re sisters. I would never leave you or think less of you. I just need to know that you’re going to be okay.”

Taking in a shaking breath, Queenie closed her eyes. She skipped the preamble and just took the plunge.

“Teenie,” she said quietly, using her nickname for her sister, “I like boys … but I also like girls.”

The silence seemed to stretch on forever, but in the end it was only a moment. She felt her sister gently squeeze her hands. In a soft voice, Tina said, “Queenie, look at me.”

Swallowing back the fear of rejection and judgment, she looked up and met her sister’s gaze.

Queenie clearly read her thoughts. Even though she felt as if she was being tossed beneath the waves, she found that she could finally breathe.